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reclaiming shakti

Public Art and Community-Based Intervention at Mumbai’s Shakti Mills Lane

That the gruesome crime took place at a mill named Shakti – which in its current avatar, is anything but the embodiment of the feminine strength – is but a small irony.

The incident rightfully sparked concerns for safety, security and better management of the street as it is frequented by nearly 2000 office-goers each day, many of them women. 

There are not enough street lights, the lane is overflowing with taxis and garbage, the signage is ad hoc, the lane decrepit, with the dilapidated structure of Shakti Mills itself looming as dramatis personae in the lives of the locals – fruit sellers, garage owners, taxi drivers, makeshift tea stall keepers, students and others to whom the lane is home. 

Six years later life goes on as usual. Women professionals who join the various offices, shops and cafes here bring up the “Shakti Mills incident”, wanting reassurance that nothing like that has since happened here.

The Role of Art-Based Interventions

The G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture’s office and arts center are both located in the vicinity of the Shakti Mills enclave and we feel we are as responsible as the other stakeholders and need to do something about the condition of this place and its public perception. 

We believe that the Shakti Mills lane and its surrounding environs have the potential to evolve and serve different users:

– a safe haven for the scores of dignity deprived citizens and homeless persons 
– a business hub for professionals, 
– a creative space for artists and performers, 
– an inspiring lab for designers, 
– a secure pocket for families, friends and couples, and 
– an accessible pathway for commuters

If it has to morph into a space that is accessible, safe, inclusive, and thriving for every stakeholder, it requires each member of the community to define the stakes for themselves and work toward actualizing a revitalized Shakti Mills lane that is of value to them. 

G5A attempts to create a network that re-connects individuals, empowers communities and builds creative, resilient neighborhoods. By working with diverse stakeholders and representatives in the neighborhood (from street vendors to real estate owners and offices) we aim to generate and facilitate ideas and interventions through an interdisciplinary approach – to which the arts are critical. An art-based intervention can engage local communities toward visibilizing a space that’s for all intents and purposes rendered invisible due to its history and functionality. It has the power to bring about understanding, ownership and healing.

On Women’s Day (March 08 2016), G5A along with other operating businesses and institutions in the area were collectively recognized as the Advance Locality Management (ALM) body by the MCGM.

Together with support from MCGM and ALM members, we have created an action plan to tackle the following major concerns in Shakti Mills Lane

  1. Solid Waste Management: Zero Waste Neighborhood
  2. Safety: Sufficient Lighting
  3. Accessibility: Clear, Organized Signage, Pavements, Parking and Pedestrian Walkway
  4. Overall Beautification

Reclamation of the Street

Initiating a dialogue through public art-based initiatives will enable us to introduce a “disruptive” intervention that breaks the current and often negative perceptions linked to this site. 

Eventually these projects will become self-sustaining and community driven, ensuring that the stakeholders are working together and enabling informed action. 

Art would thus become a medium through which larger conversations and initiatives around safety, livability, creativity, and other driving forces of our lives can be reviewed, challenged and redefined.

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